If you play in Regional Qualifiers or YCS events, you may be familiar with deck checks. They occurs randomly during the course of a tournament and they're usually quick and painless for all parties involved. But the deck check can go horribly, horribly wrong if it's not done properly or quickly. A match can be delayed for over ten minutes if a deck check runs long, and the time extension that has to be given in cases like that can delay the entire event. Running an efficient deck check's a necessary skill to ensure a fair event that ends at a reasonable time.

This week on Black and White: The Deck Check! I'll go over what has to happen, how to best accomplish this, and a couple of things you shouldn't do.

Preparation
Deck lists are required for all Tier 2 events. So if you're planning to judge at a Regional Qualifier, be prepared to deal with deck lists, and the very first place the process begins is with the player at registration. At YCS events, deck lists have to be turned in either at registration or before Round 1 begins. This is where the list is checked for legality. As a preventative measure, it's a very good idea to also make sure the player's name and Konami Player ID are legible, and that the "Last Initial" box in the upper right corner has the duelist's last initial properly recorded.

Obviously, doing deck checks means storing all the deck lists for an event. Usually, the Tournament Organizer will provide a method or equipment for this: an alphabetized accordion folder will usually suffice. At the very least, all the lists should be in a folder that corresponds to their last initial. Ideally, all of the lists would be sorted alphabetically as well, but sometimes the size of the event and a lack of available judges may prevent that. Do the best you can with what's available, but keep in mind that having all the lists alphabetically sorted will make the next steps quicker and easier.

Table Selection
So it's now Round 1. You have all your lists filed and ready, and all the problems you caught with the initial perusal have been sorted. So now you can start deck checks! But… you need to know what tables to do. There are a few ways to do this.

The KTS method: Konami Tournament Software has a function that allows the scorekeeper to print out a specified number of randomly selected tables within the tournament. The printout will list the table number as well as both players' Konami Player ID numbers. Since KTS randomly picks the tables, they're suitable for deck check selection.

Pre-determined numbers before the tournament: Some additional prep before the tournament is needed for this, but you could print out a list of tables you'd want to deck check before the tournament is even open for registration. Keep this list with you and refer to it when necessary to determine which tables will be deck checked. This method allows you a degree of control over which tables you pick, which is good because KTS' randomization may pick table 77 in Round 9, which would be a waste of time if both players didn't show up for the last match because neither can earn their invite.

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Pick a number before the round is paired: Of these three methods, I recommend you do the other two if you're able. Yes, you could do this method, but then there's no record of what you picked which could lead to players questioning your methods.

In establishing trust and providing good customer service, you'll want something concrete to back you up in case other players have concerns. Having a set process for deck checks lends credibility to the process, the judge staff, and even Organized Play as a whole. Remember, in an average player's mind, every judge is exactly the same. "The judges" at one Regional are exactly the same as "the judges" at another even if they aren't. Having a defined process is better than this method in the long-term.

Start Of Round Checks
The beginning of the round is usually the easiest time to check decks since every player is accounted for at a specific time.

When round pairings go up, the judges responsible for deck checks (which I will call the Deck Team from here on out) are split into groups of two. Each group is responsible for checking one table at the start of the round. Once the table is known, one judge in the group goes to the big file of deck lists and pulls the lists matching the players at the table. The second judge goes to the table to get the decks.

If the lists were all sorted alphabetically, pulling lists is now way easy. If not, the judge pulling lists will have to search through all the lists of a certain letter until they find the right one. If you sort beforehand, you save up to one minute during the round. One minute doesn't seem like a lot, but minutes add up quickly.

Picking Up Decks
The judge picking up the decks should find the table but stay far enough away to see the players and the cards. Don't tip off that you're going to check that table; only observe the players until they each shuffle their decks and present their deck to their opponent. This is an incredibly important point to make. The act of presenting the deck means "the deck is ready for my opponent to randomize", indicating the deck is ready to be played with during the game.

Once both players have presented, approach the table, confirm the table number, and inform the players they've been selected for a deck check. Ask for each player's name because you'll need to remember whose deck is whose. Have each player hand you their deck box, while you carefully place the Main, Side and Extra Deck into their deck box. Do not have the player hand you their deck. Let the players know they will be given a time extension, and then proceed to where you'll be doing the deck check.

Checking The Decks
So the lists have been pulled and the decks have just made it to the back. Great! Now what?

First, the judge with the decks matches them up to the lists that have been pulled. First thing to do is to take all cards out of the deck box and separate them into Main, Side and Extra. Any additional cards in the deck box have to be counted as part of the deck even if they were clearly not intended to be. This is where a lot of Deck Error – Major infractions come from, so be aware of that if you're a player. Don't keep unnecessary cards in your deck box.

Check the Main Deck first. Before sorting the deck, give a cursory glance at the state of the backs and corners of the sleeves. Look for bends in corners or obvious curves or warping. Make note of anything unusual, then sort the deck by Monsters, Spells and Traps. Compare the cards in the deck to the cards on the list to ensure they match up. Then do the same for the Side and Extra Decks. There's a couple of other things I think you should look at during a deck check, but since this is being published on the internet, I can't reveal everything here. I generally tell judges that need to know that information during an event, but I won't be doing so in an article for obvious reasons.

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When checking the decks, the Team Lead should be keeping track of time. Doing a deck check during a round is challenging because you need to be both accurate and fast. If you've had the deck for seven minutes and you haven't found anything wrong, you need to end the deck check. Return the decks to the players, and the extension you give is the amount of time you had the decks for plus three additional minutes. If the deck check takes too long, the time extension gets out of hand and can slow the entire tournament.

Common Problems
I already addressed the "extra cards in the deck box" problem, but other common issues can pop up during a deck check. (Note: You'll need to know the Penalty Guidelines for the rest of this discussion. Go read those if you aren't already familiar with them.)

Marked Cards: A card is considered marked if it can be distinguished without looking at the front of the card. A bend in a corner, a fingernail indentation on the back, or factory-damaged sleeves can cause a card to be marked. The specific infraction for marked cards depends on pattern and intent.

Is there a pattern to the marked cards?

The Penalty Guidelines ask us to look at the marked cards for a "significant pattern" about the cards themselves, not the marks on them. If no such pattern exists, the infraction is Marked Cards – Minor, which is a warning. The player then has to change the cards or sleeves as appropriate. The judge may allow the player to do this between rounds (be sure to follow up to ensure this has happened!)

But if there is a pattern…

Were the marked cards marked intentionally?

This part has to be done by either the Deck Team lead or even the Head Judge. The difference between "unintentional" and "intentional" is tremendous.

Marked cards that have a discernible pattern amongst each other (three Mystical Space Typhoons and three Dust Tornados, for example) but are not intentional (as an example, the Head Judge determines the six cards in question were being borrowed from a friend's deck and he used a different pack of sleeves that were cut a different length) are considered Marked Cards – Major, which is a Game Loss.

But if the Head Judge determines that the cards were marked intentionally… well… then it's Unsporting Conduct – Cheating, and the penalty is Disqualification without prize. Intent is usually the biggest determining factor in whether or not a DQ is necessary.

Illegible Decklist: C'mon guys. Chicken scratch ain't gonna cut it at Tier 2 tournaments. We need to know what you're playing and if we can't read it, it doesn't count. With the latest version of the Penalty Guidelines, this is actually a Deck Error – Minor, which is a warning. If your handwriting's atrocious, fill out a deck list online using the card database or by filling out a PDF on the official site.

Abbreviated Card Names: Abbreviations for a family of monsters, like "LS" for Lightsworn or "GB" for Gladiator Beast, are acceptable. But "MST" for Mystical Space Typhoon isn't an acceptable abbreviation.

Foreign Language Cards: Duelists may use foreign language cards as long as they can provide a local language translation of those cards (and so long as they're TCG cards, not OCG cards). If those translations are actual local-language copies of the card, they must be outside of the deck box, otherwise it counts as part of their deck and causes problems as discussed earlier. If you come across foreign language cards during your deck check and there are no translations in the box (like a slip of paper that has card text written by the player), then when you return the deck you must ask the player to provide translations for the cards they're running. If they can't, the infraction is Deck Error – Minor (Warning) and they have to correct their deck for the next round.

The Deck Doesn't Match The List: Sometimes, a player will just forget to remove Side Decked cards from their Main Deck before starting a new match. This is usually an innocent Mistake, but to be sure, look at what cards were accidently left in and what the current matchup is.

During an investigation, ask the player what his previous matchup was – you can confirm it if need be by looking up a player history and pulling his previous opponent's deck list. Playing with an illegal deck is a Deck Error – Major (Game Loss). The Penalty Guidelines specify how to correct the situation going forward.

Mid-Round Deck Check
Did you know you can check decks in between games in a match! You do now!

The process is just about the same as a regular start-of-round Deck Check. You'd have another table with lists pulled, and the judge would wait until the players are between games. The decks can be pulled either before or after siding. When checking decks this time, however, if siding did occur, you have to take that into account and you have to pay careful attention to not mix up the Main and Side Decks at this point. Otherwise the deck check procedure is exactly the same.

That's the basics of doing deck checks. Obviously I can't go into specifics due to the public nature of this article, but if you're judging a Regional Qualifier or any event that requires deck lists, hopefully you're better prepared to run an on-time and fair event. If you have any questions about this, card interactions, game mechanics or tournament policy, drop me an e-mail (one question per e-mail please!) to askjudgejoe@gmail.com and your question could be answered in a future Court of Appeals!

-Joe Frankino